There is no gainsaying the fact that the environment constitutes a vital sector in the economy of any nation. The fact that all economic activities take place in an environment underscores the importance of the environment. It is for this reason that nations especially the developed countries have had to evolve sound and comprehensive policies and programmes that address issues or problems emanating from the environment either natural or man made. The objective being to protect and preserve the environment (both physical and human) for the use of future generations.
Of course, waste management is a strategic component of environmental management. The significance of waste management especially on the population cannot be over emphasized when viewed on the desire for a safe and healthy population for economic activities to thrive. That is to say a safe and healthy population is a “sine qua non” for sustainable economic growth and development of any nation.
In Rivers state waste management has become a recurring phenomenon. Obviously it is one issue that successive administrations have not been able to address squarely despite the huge resources expended. The truth is that .previous administrations lacked a clear cut waste management policy neither did they conscientiously execute whatever policy they had on ground. And so Rivers State and particularly Port Harcourt the state capital and its environs remain beset with waste management problems and their adverse ramifications.
The common manifestation of an inefficient and ineffective waste management system is the ugly sight of heaps of refuse dotting various street corners, littering, blocked drains, over grown weeds, makeshift structures, abandoned vehicles and metal scraps with high level of noise ‘pollution completing the cycle.
All these no doubt abound in Port Harcourt city and its environs. The situation poses serious challenge to the present administration which from all indications is desirous of confronting the menace head long through the Integrated Waste Management System.
When you talk about problems of sanitation and the waste management programme which the Amaechi administration inherited, what readily comes to mind is de-silting of drains and refuse evacuation by contractors. Even as narrow and crude as this policy is, its implementation had proved to be as tough as a hard nut. These contractors have indeed failed the state as they only engage in what some environmental experts describe as mere distribution of waste.
These contractors are simply ill prepared even for the simple task of refuse evacuation, or de-silting of drains. They lack the professional skill to do the job. Their technical and logistical capacities are nothing to write home about. Their often hired rickety trucks and poorly equipped and motivated personnel speak volume of the ineffective service they render. Exposure, littering and fly dumping are common features during refuse evacuation. As for de-silting contractors, silts from the drains are never evacuated into trucks for disposal after each operation, only for the waste to be washed into the drains and for them (contractors) to de-silt again. It is a vicious circle that makes no meaning and probably a deliberate ploy to keep them busy.
To these contractors, sanitation job is just like any other business where you make as much profit as you can even if the outcome is a glaring non performance. The love or passion for the environment is not in their reckoning and so they cannot muster the zeal or efforts to do their job excellently and be happy. They are not irritated by the heaps of refuse in their areas of operations as they wait for their monthly payment.
In this situation the regulatory bodies are not free from blame ‘either as they have also failed to discharge their duties creditably. They lack the capacity to supervise, monitor and extract compliance and in the case of default exert appropriate sanctions that will serve as deterrent and even in cases where they attempt control, the contractors who are mostly untouchables because of their political connections treat them with levity or out rightly ignore them and so the rot continues.
We could also blame the poor sanitary situation on the attitude of the people. In fact the whole mess had assumed an attitudinal dimension. This is as a result of the nonchalant attitude of previous administrations, a situation which made people to become complacent with environmental hygiene as they indulge in all manner of dirty habits at home and in public. Thus, people accumulate waste in their homes and dispose off anywhere’ it suits them even in drains. It became fashionable to litter the streets with waste in a manner that defies the efforts of government to keep the city clean.
The cause of the perennial flooding in Port Harcourt, each time it rains has also partly been traced to clogged drains that hinder water flow although some of these drains are mere gutters that lead to nowhere and this brings us to the issue of channels and discharge outlets that make up a comprehensive drainage system.
There is also the menace of banners and posters. The indiscriminate pasting of posters and banners and even sign boards on every available space has grossly defaced the city. This, coupled with pervasive street trading has created the impression of a city in dire need of sanity.
It is against this backdrop one would appreciate the significance of the stakeholders meeting called by the Hon. Commissioner for Environment Mr. Kingsley Chindah on July, 2009 at the conference hall of Ministry of Justice. The meeting was essentially to reappraise and evaluate the performance of the present waste management programme which could be described as ad hoc viz-a-vis the new Integrated Waste Management System of the Rivers State government in order to achieve the synergy needed to ensure a clean and healthy environment.
Truly, the commissioner did not mince words or pretend in admitting failure on the part of every stakeholder (contractors, regulators and the public) as far as the present system is concerned and called for a reawakening. A new consciousness for all those involved in environmental sanitation in the state, particularly the need for major players to display professionalism and competence in their operations.
Refuse and de-silting contractors have a major role to play and should begin to get serious and committed in doing their job with pride and dignity and not just a profit making venture. The government wants to see improved performance in refuse collection with the goal of professionalizing the system and has thus put in place concrete measures designed to raise the standard to achieve optimum result. And contractors who do not meet the minimum standard will be shown the way out for serious minded professionals to come in.
For instance, to qualify as a contractor in the new dispensation you need at least three trucks and not rickety ones with evidence of experience or past performance in the job. Dumpsite managers should have excavators in addition to pollution control measures to achieve operational efficiency. In order to motivate staff of contractors, they are obliged to provide workman insurance scheme for their employees who are indeed exposed to health risk. To address the problem of delayed payment, contractors are to discuss with their bankers for bank guarantee to ensure free flow of funds in the system.
The government, in order to ensure decency has regulated waste disposal period for the public otherwise called garbage time which is now 6pm to 12 midnight. At the same time refuse contractors are now to engage in night evacuation which is most convenient and devoid of the hassles experienced in the day time. Contractors will employ road sweepers in their zones and also carry out litter control including checking the menace of posters and banners in their operational areas.